Symptoms, Treatment & Survival Rate of Stage 4 Colon Cancer

Submitted by Nic on October 16, 2012

Colon cancer, as the name suggests, manifests in the glands in the colorectal lining. While other types of cancer can spread to the colon, colon cancer specifically refers to cancers that originate in the colon. The American Cancer Society regards colon or colorectal cancer as one of the top causes of deaths related to cancer.

Colon cancer is divided into 5 stages, from stage 0 to stage 4. Stage 4 colon cancer (earlier known as Duke’s D colon cancer) is the last stage of this cancer. At this stage of the cancer, the cancer is said to have spread to other parts of the body, specifically the lungs, liver, and lymph nodes.


Typically, colon cancer is very hard to diagnose as there are almost no signs or symptoms in the initial stages of the disease. By stage 4 colon cancer, however, some symptoms do begin to manifest. While these symptoms are common to other underlying conditions, if you do experience any of these, you should check with a doctor.

  • Erratic bowel movements: People often experience both diarrhea and constipation, and a feeling that the bowel has not been emptied properly.
  • Stool changes: In people with stage 4 colon cancer, the stool may appear unusually dark (owing to the blood in it) and thinner than normal. It may also be covered in mucus.
  • Abdominal discomfort: Pain, cramping, bloating, nausea and gas may be felt by those with colon cancer.
  • Jaundice: Since the colon cancer has normally spread to the liver by stage 4, jaundice is also a symptom.
  • Other symptoms include unexplained fever, weight loss, fatigue, thrombosis.


As with most cancers, treatment options will depend on the stage in which the cancer is in. Unfortunately, colon cancer invariably goes unnoticed in the first few stages and the symptoms only begin to manifest in the later stages. Some of the general treatments used include a colectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

For stage 4 colon cancer, most doctors recommend surgery as the first line of treatment. While surgery in stage 0 colon cancer involves only removing the cancerous cells by means of a colonoscopy, in stages 1, 2 and 3, part of the colon is removed, also called colon resection or colectomy. In stage 4 colon cancer, surgery will also involve removal of the part of the colon that is affected by the cancer, albeit the surgery is more extensive.

Chemotherapy and/or radiation is used in stage 4 colon cancer to treat the cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body such as lungs, liver, stomach, and ovaries.

Other treatments targeted at the cancer at other sites include:

  • Cryotherapy, or freezing the cancer
  • Ablation, or burning the cancer


While there have been rare exceptions, stage 4 colon cancer is generally not regarded as curable. Factors that will determine the prognosis include stage, position or spread of the tumor, ethnicity, and country or residence. Stage 4 colon cancer survival rate (survival 5 years after diagnosis) is not very good, and only about 6 to 10 percent.

Regular exercise is said to improve the survival rate of colon cancer.


  • Jessica O'Connell and Melinda Maggard, “Colon Cancer Survival Rates with the New American Joint Committee on Cancer Sixth Edition Staging,” Journal of the National Cancer Institute, (October 2004).
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